As term limits force the early retirement of a growing number of
legislators, many are starting to take up residence in the Third House,
shifting from the role of lawmaker to lobbyist.
All told, 35 ex-lawmakers are registered as full-time lobbyists in
California, including 11 that have left office since 2000.
The cohort of legislators-turned-lobbyists varies from Steve Samuelian, a
former Assemblyman who served only two years before bowing out of his
re-election bid in 2004, to Patrick Johnston, a 20-year legislative veteran
who nearly became Senate leader in the late 1990s.
“With the turnover because of term limits, if lawmakers really enjoy what
they are doing, or can’t go back to what they were doing before, lobbying is
a good option,” says former Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, who was termed-out of
the Assembly in 2002 and opened her own lobbying shop in 2003.
Most legislators-turned-lobbyists say that they became outside advocates to
continue the work they pursued as elected officials.
“I thought ‘What’s the next step?'” says former Assemblyman Ken Maddox, an
Orange County Republican who termed-out of the Assembly in 2004 and started
lobbying in 2005. “Getting into professional lobbying was a natural
extension of my legislative experience.”
In California, there is a one-year moratorium before past legislators can
lobby the Legislature. But many ex-lawmakers lay the groundwork for
launching a lobbying operation before that time is up, lining up clients,
renting space, filing necessary paperwork, and even lobbying the executive
branch. Few wait more than two years to join the lobbying core.
“They’ve got to go somewhere,” says Thad Kousser, assistant professor of
political science at UC San Diego. “Term limits can’t stop politicians from
being political animals, and lobbying is one way to stay in politics.”
Kousser points to a study of the 2002 Assembly class that showed that 95
percent of termed-out members ran for higher office were appointed by the
governor or became lobbyists.
“Lobbying is a high-paying place to be in politics,” says Kousser.
Some termed-out members, like former Republican leader Jim Brulte, have
stayed involved in politics outside the lobbying sphere. This year, Brulte
served as Schwarzenegger’s debate negotiator, is a senior adviser to the
governor’s campaign and is chairman of Steve Poizner’s campaign for
“I don’t get paid for those things, but they feed whatever need there is to
stay involved,” says Brulte.
Others, including former Senate leader John Burton, a San Francisco
Democrat, have signed on as consultants–not lobbyists–for companies with
business pending before the Legislature.
So, do ex-lawmakers make for particularly effective lobbyists?
Not necessarily, say Capitol veterans.
“When I was a legislator, my impression of lobbyists who had been members
was mixed,” says former Sen. Patrick Johnston, who served from 1981 to 2000.
“Former members sometimes coasted on [their] reputation or past associations
One such lobbyist, whom Johnston declined to name, would float around the
Capitol urging past colleagues, “Hey, baby, gimme your vote.”
Effective or not, former legislators do have an easier time breaking into
the tight-knit lobbying industry, says Bev Hansen, a Republican
assemblywoman who served from 1987 to 1992.
“There is an absolute connection between anyone who has served in that
Legislature,” says Hansen, who is a partner at Lang, Hansen, O’Malley, and
Miller, one of the largest lobbying firms in Sacramento. “We all know what
it took to get there. If you haven’t done it, you don’t understand.”
But while term limits is opening the doors of the Third House to past
lawmakers, those same limits are eroding what many believe to be recent
lawmakers’ best asset: personal relationships.
Hansen says that in the recently completed legislative session only two
lawmakers–Assemblymen Johan Klehs, D-San Leandro, and Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe
City, remained from her time in the Legislature. Next year, Hansen only will
have served with Charles Calderon, who is expected to return to the
Legislature after an eight-year absence.
It’s simple, says Aroner. “In a term-limited environment, your connections
aren’t going to last that long. My relationship with new members won’t be
the same as the members I served with.”
Kousser, the assistant professor, says that legislators in the era of term
limits who become lobbyists “may not be as powerful as retired legislators
before [term limits] because their connections are term-limited and they
have had less time to gather their expertise.”
Though few say it openly, many lobbyists yearn for a return to their days as
lawmakers. Some ex-legislators even use lobbying as a bridge back to
Former Assemblyman Manny Diaz, a Democrat that represented San Jose from
2001 until 2004, registered as a lobbyist in May 2005. But this November,
Diaz will be on the ballot again–this time running for city council in San
Jose, a post he first won back in 1994.
In fact, for many former members, lobbying is a second choice.
“I expect I would have run for re-election to the state Senate if there had
not been term limits,” said Johnston, matter-of-factly.